Very often when people are asked to describe elder abuse they will talk about physical assault. This is usually because physical injuries are the easiest to identify and because our societies are uncomfortable with the idea that a physically vulnerable person can be assaulted by a stronger person, or those in positions of trust.

Physical assault is about more than slapping or hitting and includes the prescription or administering of medication that is not licensed for the purpose used, often described as the ‘soft cosh’ because of the impact that it can have. Physical abuse is always a crime but is not always prosecuted.

What are the signs of physical abuse?

The signs of physical abuse are often evident but can also be hidden by the abuser or the victim. Any unexplained injuries should always be fully investigated. Evidence to look out for include:

  • Cuts, lacerations, puncture wounds, open wounds, bruises, welts, discolouration, black old woman lying on flooreyes, burns, bone fractures, broken bones, and skull fractures
  • Untreated injuries in various stages of healing or not properly treated
  • Poor skin condition or poor skin hygiene
  • Dehydration and/or malnourished without illness-related cause
  • Loss of weight
  • Soiled clothing or bed
  • Broken eyeglasses/frames, physical signs of being subjected to punishment, or signs of being restrained
  • Inappropriate use of medication, overdosing or under-dosing
  • An older person telling you they have been hit, slapped, kicked, or mistreated

Man and SonPhysical Abuse in the family

Sometimes it easier to identify and address abuse that is perpetrated by a paid worker, than a friend or a member of your own family. You can still feel betrayed by the actions of a worker, and it can still hurt, but it is often not the same as coming to terms with abuse that has been perpetrated by your son or your daughter. For this reason, we often draw parallels with the experiences and knowledge of domestic abuse services, where someone can find it very difficult to accept that they are the victim of abuse, and sometimes cannot bring themselves to recognise or accept the help that is available.

Family abuse can also be particularly difficult for older people within minority ethnic communities, where the stigma associated with publicly acknowledging such abuse can prevent disclosure or action from occurring.

All of these factors can make it very difficult to address elder abuse.